Restoring China’s past glory

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:18 pm

Via CDT a report on gated communities for the poor outside Beijing. In theory the purpose is to protect residents from crime, but of course the main goal is to keep migrant workers under control.

That road into Shoubaozhuang is guarded 24 hours a day by two uniformed guards and partially barred by an accordion gate that closes tight at 11 p.m. each night. Until 6 a.m. the next day, the residents are sealed in. Only those with passes are allowed to come and go, their movements recorded by a video camera stationed over the entrance.

Gated communities for the rich are of course nothing new in China. Dividing an entire city into walled wards to keep the population under control is also not new. Charles Benn describes the system in the Tang.1

The function of ward walls was to provide internal security by preventing the movement of people. The law clearly asserted the principle. Ninety blows with a thick rod was the punishment for climbing over ward walls. Each of a ward’s roads terminated in gates that a headman, who was in charge of affairs within the ward, barred at dusk. As the sun went down in Changan, a tattoo of 400 beats on a drum signaled the closing of palace gates and a second, of 600 beats, the closing of ward and city gates. The length of the tattoos gave people ample time to return to their dwellings before the ward gates closed. In the predawn hours drummers beat another tattoo of 3,000 beats that was the signal for opening the gates. Each of the avenues also had drums that sounded at curfew. The law forbade citizens to travel on the main thoroughfares of the cities outside the wards during curfew, but it did not restrict their nocturnal movements within the wards. The statute, however, permitted public commissioners bearing official documents, as well as marriage processions, to use the avenues and streets after curfew. In both cases they had to obtain a permit from the county government first. It also allowed private citizens who needed to find a doctor or procure medicine for the treatment of the ill to travel, as well as those who needed to leave their ward to announce a death. However, they had to have a certificate issued by the ward headman. Anyone else found wandering outside the wards during the night by the Gold Bird Guard was subject to twenty blows of the thin rod. In 808, however, the throne had a eunuch who got drunk and violated the curfew beaten to death. The emperor also demoted the officer in charge of the Gold Bird Guard and banished him from the capital.

Sadly for the Tang rulers weakening government power after the An Lushan rebellion and then the greater commercialization and fluidity of society made it impossible to keep up the system. In the Song and after the system of gated wards could not be re-imposed. The current Chinese government, however, is at least making an effort at restoring the glory of the Tang.

  1. the system of urban wards goes back at least to the Han. []


“China and Christianity”: Hu Shi’s 1927 View of Nationalism and Rationalism

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:34 pm

Over at the invaluable Danwei,  Julian Smisek’s “Hu Shi, missionaries, and women’s rights” (July 15, 2010) does a valuable service in translating Hu’s 1930 essay, “Congratulations to the YWCA,”  which pays tribute to Christian missionaries for helping Chinese women.

Hu, a Columbia University PhD, won a poll in the early 1920s as the most admired “returned student” in China. But his surprising words of praise for the YWCA need to be balanced against his views on Christianity’s future in China. He elsewhere disdained the run of Christian missionaries as uneducated and narrow. They came to China because they could live well for little money, he said, and mission boards were far less careful in selecting China missionaries than Standard Oil was in selecting China salesmen and executives.

Hu’s “China and Christianity” was the lead piece in the July 1927 issue of the North American journal, The Forum. That year saw Chiang Kai-shek purge the Communists and Mao Zedong take to the countryside, setting off a generation of civil war, but the editor introduces Hu as “the leader of an intellectual movement that is permeating the youth of China and is interested chiefly in the things of the mind.” Like the “ancient sages of the East,” Hu “stands outside the current political conflict.”

Here’s the editorial in its entirety:

The future of Christianity in China is a question which should be considered apart from the question of the past services rendered to China by the Christian missionaries. The part played by the missionaries in the modernization of China will long be remembered by the Chinese, even though no Christian church may be left there. They were the pioneers of the new China. They helped the Chinese to fight for the suppression of opium which the pirate-traders brought to us. They agitated against footbinding, which eight centuries of esoteric philosophizing in native China failed to recognize as an inhuman institution. And they brought to us the first rudiments of European science. The early Jesuits gave us the pre-Newtonian astronomy, and the later Protestant missionaries introduced modern hospitals and schools. They taught us to know that there was a new world and a new civilization behind the pirate-traders and gunboats.

Many of the Protestant missionaries worked hard to awaken China and bring about a modern nation. China is now awakened and determined to modernize herself. There is not the slightest doubt that a new and modem China is emerging out of chaos. But this new China does not seem to promise much bright future to the propagation of the Christian faith. On the contrary, Christianity is facing opposition everywhere. The dream of a “Christian occupation of China” seems to be fast vanishing, – probably forever. And the explanation is not far to seek.

It is true that there is much cheap argument in the narrow nationalistic attack which sees in the Christian missionary an agent of imperialist aggression. But we must realize that it is nationalism, – the self-consciousness of a nation with no mean cultural past,– that once killed Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Manicheism in China. It is the same nationalism which four times persecuted Buddhism and finally killed it after over a thousand years of complete Buddhistic conquest of China. And it is the same national consciousness which is now resisting the essentially alien religion of Christianity.

And more formidable than nationalism, there is the rise of rationalism. We must not forget that Chinese philosophy began two thousand five hundred years ago with Lao Tse who taught a naturalistic conception of the universe end a Confucius who was frankly an agnostic. This rationalistic and humanistic tradition has always played the part of a liberator in every age when the nation seemed to be under the influence of a superstitious or fanatic religion. This cultural background of indigenous China is now revived with the new reinforcement of the methods and conclusions of modern science and becomes a truly formidable safeguard of the intellectual class against the imposition of any religious system whose fundamental dogmas, despite all efforts of its apologists, do not always stand the test of reason and science.

And after all, Christianity itself is fighting its last battle, even in the so-called Christendoms. To us born heathens, it is a strange sight indeed to see Billy Sunday and Aimée McPherson hailed and patronized in an age whose acknowledge prophets are Darwin and Pasteur. The religion of Elmer Gantry and Sharon Falconer must sooner or later make all thinking people feel ashamed to call themselves “Christians”. And then they will realize that Young China was not far wrong in offering some opposition to a religion which in its glorious days fought religious wars and persecuted science, and which, in the broad daylight of the twentieth century prayed for the victory of the belligerent nations in the World War and is still persecuting the teaching of science in certain quarters of Christendom.

It’s impressive both that The Forum published a critical piece from an intellectual in China and that Hu kept up with the latest stateside scandals and the novels of Sinclair Lewis. At a time when anti-imperialist tempers ran high, Hu coolly uses cosmopolitan liberal standards which stand above particular nations. His criteria apply to China and the US as well. But perhaps Hu should have known better than to think that rationality could combine with nationalism to save China.



Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:22 pm

A major problem nowadays is to somehow find that newly published article in a journal you don’t subscribe to – I miss enough articles in the journals I do subscribe to.

The first resort is the Bibliography of Asian Studies Online, only available by subscription (individuals can subscribe but it’s mostly libraries). BAS categorizes hundreds of thousands of journal articles and chapters in edited volumes going back to 1971. The search makes is easy to find an article if you know what you are looking for.  Good enough.

But it’s harder to come across what you weren’t looking for. The most fun way of dealing with the problem is simple: if you have access to a good library’s journal room, stroll up and down the aisles browsing like a deer for acorns. This is good for at least an afternoon and it gets you out of your office but it’s far from systematic and many of us don’t have that access.

So I have been happy in a major way that H-DIPLO has stepped in to organize Journal Watch: H-Diplo Journal & Periodical Review.

The self-description is “H-Diplo Journal Watch monitors leading scholarly journals for articles of particular interest to scholars of diplomacy, foreign relations, and international history, which are listed below by journal title.” Each quarter they post a  .pdf file with Tables of Contents for every journal you ever heard of in those fields, or at least the ones in English.  You can either browse or search for your words. Coverage begins with the year 2007.

Putting this together can’t be much fun, so kudos goes to our new heroes, Erin Black, editor for journal titles from A-I, and Lubna Qureshi, editor for journal titles from J-Z.

Journal Watch doesn’t solve the problem – there’s just too much coming out and there’s no way to search by key words or topic. But every competent project like this is a big help, and you are sure to find acorns which you would have missed.


Sweaty Traitors – Character Simplifications That Just Weren’t Meant to Be

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:01 am

I had an old instructor of Chinese language many years ago who took every opportunity to pick fun at the evil Reds on the mainland. I think he fled China in 1949 and never got over it. He loved to pick on their character simplification, saying things like, “Only the Communists would take the heart out of love.” (愛 -> 爱) Or, referring to the wings represented in the character 習 for “to learn; study” – and how this nicely gave us the image of taking flight, he would say, “Ask the Communists how you can fly with only one wing!” (習 -> 习)

I always thought his complaints were humorous but unfair, simplification will always result in such changes, and many (most?) were adopted from existing simplifications used widely in handwriting. The KMT dabbled with simplification as well, even if it never worked out. There are many fans of the simplification process and while I personally find simplified characters downright ugly to look at by comparison, I can’t really explain how I came to this aesthetic conclusion. Perhaps the old teacher brain-washed me, or the fewer simplifications of Japanese, which I studied first, made their mark?

Some simplifications already in circulation before the first round of the Chinese government mandated simplification in the mid 1950s, however, didn’t make the cut.

One that I have come across in the past couple of years and seen used in a wide range of hand written (or etched) documents of the Communist party is the simplification of the character for “Han” (漢) as in the Han people or more generally, Chinese, into the character 汗, which normally means “sweat” instead of the character which was ultimately chosen as the standard for simplified Chinese, 汉.

At one point I thought this might only be the case in documents which were “etched” in the age of pre-photocopy copies, where making curved lines is more difficult, but I have seen the same document use two of the three variations, 漢, 汗, and 汉.

I notice this more often than one might in my documents from the 1930s and 1940s since I study the punishment of traitors, or hanjian (漢奸). This word often appears in my documents as 汗奸. When I first saw it, I did a double take, wondering what horrible sins had been committed by the “sweaty traitors.”

Find the sweaty traitors in examples below the fold all taken from Public Security Bureau or more specifically “treason elimination” reports from 1939-1947 (some have a sweaty traitor, some have both regular and sweaty traitors, and one has the more common simplification):



Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:01 am

Columbia University Press is publishing a complete translation of the Huainanzi, a Han-dynasty compendium of philosophy and statecraft which has been of great interest to scholars for many years but is only now receiving a full English translation

We are lucky enough to have John Major, one of the translators here for a guest post on the process of translation and also to answer a few questions.

In March of this year Columbia University Press published The Huainanzi: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Government in Early Han China, a translation of a classic work of early Chinese philosophy written under the general editorship of Liu An, King of Huainan, and presented to the Han imperial throne in 139 BCE. My colleagues and I in the translation team hope and expect that this first-ever translation of The Huainanzi into English will make an important contribution to the study of Chinese intellectual history by opening a fascinating window into currents of thought in the early Han dynasty.

The process of translating this massive and challenging work may be of interest.

In about 1994 I mentioned to my friend Hal Roth (Harold D. Roth, Brown University) that I was thinking of doing a full Huainanzi translation, and he replied that he was thinking of doing the same. So we decided to join forces; that’s how the project got started. Both of us had already devoted large amounts of our professional attention to the Huainanzi. We believed that it was under-appreciated in the field of early China studies; everyone in the field knew of Liu An’s great work and perhaps consulted it for comparative purposes when working on other texts, but few people at that time had made The Huainanzi the focus of their research. It was the last really major work of Chinese philosophy from the early imperial period that still lacked a complete English translation. (A Paris-based group beat us to the distinction of publishing the first Western-language translation; their French translation was published in 2002.)

We landed a Chiang Ching-kuo fellowship to begin the work in 1996-98. Jay Sailey, an independent scholar who also had a longstanding interest in The Huainanzi was initially part of the project but later dropped out; a few years into the project two additional participants came on board. The final team consisted of John Major, Sarah Queen (Connecticut College), Andrew Meyer (Brooklyn College) and Hal Roth. Michael Puett (Harvard) participated in the translation of chapter 13, and Judson Murray (Wright State U.) participated in the translation of chapter 21. But the core team was the four of us.

The project took so long — about fifteen years — partly because the text is quite large (the published translation runs to just over 1000 pages) and also quite difficult (it is in standard Classical Chinese but there are many textual issues to deal with and some of the language and the technical terminology is far from transparent). Also all of the participants had other ongoing obligations; it was never possible for everyone on the team to work on the project full-time, all the time. The last three years or so were very intense and we all basically put aside as much as possible of our other research and writing to concentrate on the Huainanzi, but even so, there were courses to prepare and teach, administrative work to be done, other research and writing commitments to honor, and so on. But we were determined to work as a team rather than simply dividing up and parceling out the work (as the French group had done); we were convinced that approaching the text in a truly collaborative fashion was the key to making the translation as accurate and graceful as possible. The procedure that we adopted was complicated. We began by dividing up responsibility for doing first-draft translations of all of the 21 chapters. Then each draft was read and critiqued by all other members of the team, revised, read and critiqued again, and further revised. The aim was to make the final versions as complete, accurate, and seamless as possible, no matter who did the initial draft. From 1998 to 2009 we met for four or five very hard-working weekends per year at Brown to hash out difficult passages and discuss, for example, uniform ways of translating important terms. The last stage of translation consisted of reading the entire work aloud — taking turns, one person would read while the other three followed along in the classical Chinese text, looking for errors. That took many, many hours, but it proved to be extremely worthwhile.

Manuscript preparation itself was a big job that took about two years: peer review, revision; copy-editing, more revision; page proofs, corrections; appendices, index, etc. It was a huge undertaking just in the physical sense; the final typescript ran to over 1600 double-spaced pages.

Working as a team was really essential to the project; it was a much more complicated way of doing the task than a solo effort might have been, but the result is much better than any of us could have done alone. Intensive, long-term collaborative work is quite common in the natural sciences but relatively rare in other fields; I think that the success of this project demonstrates the merits of such close collaboration in the humanities despite its complexity and the hard work required to implement it.

The Huainanzi is full of fascinating material, and the effort of translating it was more than repaid by the intellectual challenge of doing the work and the satisfaction of having it turn out well. And we are delighted with the actual published volume, which was extremely handsomely produced by Columbia University Press. It is gratifying that the first printing sold out within three months, and the book is already in its second printing. It is very satisfying to have this work finally out in the world.

John S. Major


The Most Effective Kind of Education

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 6:29 am

While there are many historical problems worthy of exploring in the study of history, I personably believe that one of the most important is an attempt to understand the process by which humans come to accept violence as legitimate. History has no monopoly on this, it is a deeply interdisciplinary issue. A second related, and equally interdisciplinary issue is to better understand the many different reasons why someone comes to accept some or all of the claims made by the institutions of power. This too, as a question of trust, is ultimately tied to legitimacy.

Like most movements aspiring to power, the Communist Party of China was also deeply interested in these questions, especially, of course, the latter. In looking through internal reports of the Treason Elimination Department (锄奸部) in Shandong from the 1930s and 1940s, I am fascinated by their emphasis on measuring and reporting not merely the elimination of the treason in question, but in the response to that elimination by the people. How did the masses respond? How many people were “mobilized” (发动) by public trial x or execution y?

I recently came across yet another source which has helped me think about, and continue to be puzzled about the two issues I opened with.

Last week I read the memoir of Sam Ginsbourg, a Russian Jew born in Siberia, but raised in Harbin, Vladivostok, and Shanghai. I’m mostly interested in Ginsbourg as a source of background information on his older brother Mark Gayn (Mark changed his name after moving to the United States), one of the most important journalists and first hand sources reporting on the complex political events of occupation Japan and Korea in the early aftermath of World War II.

Though I may post more on Mark some other time, Sam is also a very interesting figure. In 1947, as the Chinese Civil war was heating up, he travelled from Shanghai to Communist occupied Yantai (Chefoo), in Shandong province. He became a passionate supporter of Communism and a Chinese citizen in 1953. Ginsbourg took up a career in Shandong as a professor of Russian language and, whenever his card was up in political movements, as a bourgeois intellectual or Russian spy.

At least half of his memoir My First Sixty Years in China, published in 1982, deals with the long history of Communist political movements he experienced. In most cases, and especially during the Cultural Revolution, Ginsbourg found himself among the targets for attack. His own suffering and the ridiculousness of the accusations made against him and some of those close to him are described, albeit in a somewhat muted tone. Although I only skimmed through some of his encounters, it appears that he didn’t fare too badly. He wasn’t killed, and he doesn’t seem to have been severely beaten or subjected to long periods in labor camps. “On the whole,” he says, “the movements were a necessary political and ideological foundation for rapid economic growth.”1

His closing chapter is set up as a response to a visiting American academic who tries to get him to express regret for having moved to the liberated areas in 1947 and stayed through the tumultuous decades that followed. I am not too surprised to see him defend his home, his friends, and his entire way of life in those pages, rejecting the outsider’s arrogance and looking forward with great optimism at the future. All that was missing were the cute baby chickens shown in final scene of the movie To Live (活着).

More jarring however, was Ginsbourg’s display of that characteristic disconnect between what Ginsbourg himself experienced, and acts of violence he witnessed against those he did not know personally. Whereas he knows he was not himself a Russian spy, and that the President of Shandong University was probably not guilty of the many reactionary crimes he was accused of when he was purged, he doesn’t seem able to extend the same sort of skepticism to many other cases.

We see this when he describes a realization he has as he watched, in 1950, two “reactionaries” being delivered to the execution ground.

I reflected with satisfaction how far I had come since the autumn of 1947, when I had felt shock at the sight of a woman landlord being dragged to execution. Not an iota of pity or perturbation stirred me in 1950. I felt nothing but hatred for the two who were in the truck.”2

Later at Qingdao stadium (From Brazzaville to Kabul, from Pyongyang to Kigali, stadiums serve well for executions when you want to maximize impact) with, he claims, 50,000 in attendance, he watched the trial of two “ringleaders” of a secret religious society.

The woman – the abbess of a monastery – had caused the death of several ‘believers’, cheating hundreds of others of large sums of money and committed other crimes. The old man had raped sixty nuns of his nunnery, some of whom had died.

After the trial the two of them were led, or rather dragged, around the track of the stadium for everybody to see. As they rounded the huge arena, a roar of shouts followed them until they were hauled onto trucks and driven off.

The movement taught me and, I believe, others – who like myself had been born and had grown up in towns, especially those coming from well-to-do families – how horrible were the crimes that had been committed and were still being committed against the common people, how deep was the popular hatred toward the evildoers and how just the deserts. It was the best, the most practical, the most effective kind of education; and I have always thought myself lucky to have gone through it.3

Is it possible the two “ringleaders” were in fact murderers and rapists? It is certainly possible. For example, my own reading of reports from the period suggests that the Party often capitalized on the huge anger felt by local villagers against an infamous bandit or local puppet military commander. Punishing real evildoers is not just good justice, it is good politics. And yet it is just as possible that, like so many thousands of victims of the campaigns against religious organizations and secret societies in the late 1940s and early 1950s, these two leaders of religious societies had committed only the crime of leading an organization targeted by the party for complete liquidation or full co-optation. Accusing the leaders of outlandish and horrific crimes is the fastest way to demoralize and discredit such an organization, setting into motion a wave of self-criticisms and struggle sessions for other members who might then emerge cleansed of their crime of association – at least until the next movement needed a target.

Writing his memoir towards the end of his long life in China, Sam Ginsbourg wrote about that encounter and his realization at that moment without adding a word of doubt or reflection from the perspective of someone who had been a far more fortunate victim of criminal accusations. It seems that, indeed, it was a most effective kind of education.

  1. Sam Ginsbourg, My First Sixty Years in China (Beijing: Foreign Language Press Beijing, 1982), 247. []
  2. Ibid., 209. []
  3. Ibid., 210. []

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